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Vancouver Port Hesitating On Proposed Oil Train Terminal

Aerial view of charred freight train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. The photo was taken the day after the train of crude oil derailed in 2013. It claimed 47 lives.

Aerial view of charred freight train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. The photo was taken the day after the train of crude oil derailed in 2013. It claimed 47 lives.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada

A deadly oil-train explosion in Quebec has given pause to Port of Vancouver commissioners in southwest Washington. They want to rethink their next move with a proposal for a terminal to move oil from trains onto ships.

The port commission was set to vote July 23 on the largest train-to-ship oil transfer terminal proposed for the Northwest. That vote is still scheduled, along with a public hearing the previous day. But the outcome could be different than previously expected.

Port commissioner Brian Wolfe said Wednesday he now wants to extend the negotiation period with the oil-terminal developers to give the commission more time before voting on whether to approve the lease for the oil-train terminal.

The reason for the hesitation: last weekend in the Canadian province of Quebec, more than 70 rail cars — most of them tankers filled with crude oil — derailed. The death toll as of Wednesday was 20, with 30 more people missing and presumed dead.

Wolfe said the deadly explosion calls into question the assurances that the oil project’s developer, Tesoro, has made about the crude oil it wants to bring in to the port.

“We’ve been assured that crude oil doesn’t explode. OK? It burns, but it’s not supposed to explode. So what happened in Quebec? What makes that different than what we’ve been led to believe?” he said.

“That’s why we need to not rush into the project and make sure we know all the facts,” he said. “The tragedy just heightens the awareness, shall we say, of needing to know all the facts.”

Wolfe said he wants to push off the vote so more time can be spent answering commissioners’ questions, including:

  • What if any fumes will emanate from the facility and affect surrounding residents and environment?
  • Will those fumes be toxic or explosive?
  • What is Tesoro’s safety and oil recovery plans in case of a spill or other disaster?
  • How sound are the proposed 375,000-barrel oil tanks for the project?

“As you know our port is on the Columbia River and we sure don’t want any petrol going into the Columbia River,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe added that he is still in support of the facility and thinks the project will go forward, though the approval may be postponed. If the port approves the lease the project will then go through an environmental review with final approval from the governor.

The Tesoro/Savage facility would move up to 360,000 barrels of oil per day from trains onto ships bound for refineries in Washington, California and Alaska. That could mean up to 72 trains of oil moving along the Columbia Gorge each week.

The oil is coming from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota -– the same source of oil that was in the train that exploded in Quebec.

There are now 11 places in the Northwest considering handling Bakken oil.

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